This article appears as part of our comprehensive guide to Windows Vista in the March 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents. Click here to visit our dedicated Windows Vista forum.

Finding files

You'll be constantly using search in Microsoft Vista because of its speed – it searches as you type, narrowing down the hunt as you add a letter.

But speed is only part of the story. The advanced search tool is superb. You can narrow your query by date, file size, author, tags, location and more. You can type in Boolean searches and search other computers on your network, if you have read permission. Advanced search is the best graphical way to use Boolean searches we've yet seen.

Search is built into every level of Vista. It's on the Start menu and the upper righthand side of Windows Explorer. It finds documents, email, applications and even websites you've visited. An advanced search tool filters results by date, file size, author, tags and location. Furthermore you can save searches and repeat them with a single click.

Windows Vista search

The Search tool is available on the Start menu

But search in Vista is by no means perfect. It works differently in different places. The results you achieve with the Start search box will not be the same as those from the Windows Explorer search box.

Another problem – by default Search will index and search only a small portion of your hard disk, mainly the current user's username folder. To get Search to look for files elsewhere, you must click the 'Include non-indexed, hidden and system files (might be slow)' box in the advanced search options. This can be painfully slow.

You can go to Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Indexing Options and hand-pick folders to put into the index. Other problems include a Search pane in Windows Explorer that seems to vanish and appear again for no apparent reason. There is some logic involved, but it's as convoluted as the Da Vinci Code. Suffice to say that you won’t be using this Search pane anytime soon.

Networking and sharing

Microsoft has never done a great job of integrating networking capabilities into Windows. Just try synchronising Offline Folders in XP, and you'll see what we mean. Windows Vista, however, presents your network as a natural extension of your PC.

It helps you configure a network, share files and manage multiple networks all with a minimum of fuss. Vista supports all the usual network technologies, including ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Network and Sharing Center puts network tools and information at hand. Click 'View full map', for example, and you'll see a diagram showing all PCs and devices on your network, including printers, switches and gateways. Click or hover over a device icon to get more details, such as IP and MAC addresses.

Vista deftly handles wireless network connections. Simply click the network icon in the system tray, click 'Connect or disconnect' and you'll see a list of nearby wireless networks. Hover your cursor over any one to see details such as whether it’s 802.11b or g and what security protection it has, if any.

Vista saves settings for networks you use frequently so you can automatically connect to them when you're in range. You can specify which take precedence if more than one is available.

Windows Vista networking

Windows Vista: Specs

  • 800MHz processor
  • 512MB system memory
  • DirectX 9.0-compatible graphics processor
  • 800MHz processor
  • 512MB system memory
  • DirectX 9.0-compatible graphics processor

OUR VERDICT

Search is one of Windows Vista's greatest strengths. Finding files using a built-in Windows tool has never been so simple.

Find the best price